Point Lisas Industrial Estate and Tamana Intech Park could potentially be locations for the first solar panel manufacturing plants in Trinidad and Tobago. Marcia Maynard, Manager Energy Industry Development, National Energy Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd. (National Energy) revealed their plans for the plants while presenting at last month’s Clean Energy Conference hosted by the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago. 

Developing the country’s ability to manufacture solar panels is welcomed as it an efficient use of our low-cost electricity/natural gas in creating a product which can then be exported regionally for power generation, instead of oil/diesel. Having domestic production will also facilitate the penetration of renewables in Trinidad. Additionally, it has the potential to satisfy local demand and will reduce the need for imported panels from US, Europe or China. 

According to Maynard, National Energy (part of The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd. (NGC) Group of Companies) has a current mandate for the conceptualisation, promotion, development and facilitation of new energy-based and downstream industries in T&T. She went on to add that along with the other traditional National Energy projects, they are also tasked with the sustainable management of the environment. 

Solar panel manufacturing includes the production of metallurgical silicon and polysilicon in Phase 1 of the project which also includes the integrated photovoltaic modules (solar pv) and a float glass plant. 

Maynard explained that ‘Photovoltaics (PV) has emerged as a sustainable and costcompetitive energy generation technology that currently provides less than 2% of the global electricity consumed.’ 

Global production capacity estimates increase to 250GW+ in the downstream and 1,000k tons plus in the polysilica upstream over the next 15 years to contribute to COP 21 targets. 

She stated that in the local context, the drivers for this project include challenges with natural gas supply and the need to improve efficiency, the country becoming a signatory for COP 21 and the government setting a 10% renewable energy target by 2021. In addition, she explained that Photovoltaics has emerged as a sustainable and cost-competitive energy generation technology, and that there is demand for low-cost locations and areas that further diversify production base. 

According to Maynard, the solar cluster will cost approximately US$1.3 billion and will lead to creation of over 2,000 jobs. There is therefore significant potential for the project to act as a catalyst for diversification in the economy. 

She alluded to Trinidad being well suited for such a project given its proximity to attractive end-markets with positive outlooks, also suggesting that the country could position itself as a supplier for solar panels in growing markets like Mexico and other South American countries. She believes that utility-scale PV is likely to remain at the forefront in the Latin American energy mix, with Mexico expected to exhibit a diversified growth profile in all market segments, while Caribbean nations are likely to see the most growth in commercial scale projects. 

In North America, however, distributed generation (residential & commercial PV) is likely to gain ground, she said. 

Trinidad and Tobago is a suitable location for solar manufacturing and specifically this type of project for a variety of reasons. Key among them, according to Maynard, are its access to various industrial estates with supporting industrial infrastructure, industrial gases and chemicals, good interconnection to the electrical grid and utilities and electricity rates that are among the lowest in the world. 

Adding to the country’s attractiveness, she said, is the adequate availability of local ports for export of solar PV cells, especially at Pt. Lisas, and its skilled labour force that can be trained for high-tech manufacturing. 

According to Maynard, Trinidad and Tobago will have a low cost of production and according to models, production will be within the first quartile for float glass, metallurgical silica and polysilicon. In the case of the integrated PV plant, however, production will lay between the first and second quartiles. 

In concluding her presentation, she stated that the ‘project provides an opportunity to contribute to the achievement of Trinidad and Tobago’s commitments under COP 21 with the introduction of lower-priced solar PV modules for use in the residential/ domestic market and even in making the solar PV and glass plant self-sufficient through generating its power needs through actual solar power generation’.